Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced Thursday that he will vote against confirming Ketanji Brown Jackson, saying he "cannot and will not" support the groundbreaking nominee for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.
While McConnell's opposition was not unexpected and Jackson's confirmation is still on track, his declaration coming only hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped up four days of hearings probably will lead many fellow Republicans to follow suit.
Democrats can confirm Jackson, the first Black woman nominated for the nation's highest court, without any GOP support in the 50-50 Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris can cast the tiebreaking vote.
McConnell slammed the liberal groups that have supported Jackson, and he criticized her for refusing to take a position on the size of the nine-member court, even though that decision is ultimately up to Congress. Some advocacy have pushed for enlarging the court after three of President Donald Trump's nominees cemented a conservative majority.
"Judge Jackson was the court packers' pick and she testified like it," McConnell, R-Ky. said in a floor speech.
Over two days of committee questioning this week, Republicans interrogated Jackson about her record as a federal judge, including her sentencing of criminal defendants, as she seeks to become the first Black woman on the nation's highest court.
Legal experts praised Jackson in the final day of hearings Thursday, with a top lawyers' group saying its review found she has a "sterling" reputation, "exceptional" competence and is well qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.
"Outstanding, excellent, superior, superb," testified Ann Claire Williams, chair of the American Bar Association committee that makes recommendations on federal judges. "Those are the comments from virtually everyone we interviewed."
Williams said the group spoke to more than 250 judges and lawyers about Jackson. "The question we kept asking ourselves: How does one human being do so much so extraordinary well?"
Democrats are hoping to win bipartisan votes for President Joe Biden's historic nominee, but Republicans have portrayed Jackson as soft on crime in her nine years on the federal bench. Jackson, supported by committee Democrats, pushed back on that GOP narrative in more than 22 hours of questioning, explaining the sentencing process in detail and telling them: "nothing could be further from the truth."
The four-hour hearing Thursday featured not only legal experts but government officials and civil rights groups who supported Jackson and conservative advocates who opposed her.
Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall, a witness invited by the minority, echoed the Republicans' concerns. Marshall said Jackson's supporters cite her as a voice for the vulnerable, but "we should be interested in exploring whether her zeal is equally fervent for another class of our most vulnerable — victims of violent crime."
Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, the committee chairman, noted that some Republican senators argued that Jackson was out of the mainstream when it comes to sentencing. Durbin asked the ABA whether such a concern would have surfaced in their interviews with the judges and lawyers who worked with her.
"It never came up in any of these interviews," Williams said.
Joseph Drayton, another member of the ABA committee, said Jackson's reputation is "stellar."
Democrats tried to portray Marshall himself as out of the mainstream, asking about his efforts to overturn President Biden's 2020 presidential victory. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked Marshall whether President Biden was the "duly elected" president. Marshall, who had supported a lawsuit to overturn Donald Trump's defeat — would only say that Biden was president. The Supreme Court dismissed that suit.
The Senate committee is expected to vote on Jackson's nomination by April 4. Democrats are hoping to hold a final confirmation vote by Easter in mid-April, when the Senate leaves Washington for a two-week break.
GOP senators aggressively questioned Jackson on the sentences she has handed down to child pornography offenders in her nine years as a federal judge, her legal advocacy on behalf of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, her thoughts on critical race theory and her religious views.
The focus on sentencing was part of a larger effort by the committee's Republicans — several of whom are potential presidential candidates — to characterize Jackson's record, and her judicial philosophy, as too empathetic and soft on criminals who commit the worst offenses. It was also reflective of an emerging emphasis on crime in GOP midterm election campaigns.
Jackson said she bases sentences on many factors, not just federal guidelines. Sentencing is not a "numbers game," she said, noting that there are no mandatory sentences for sex offenders and that there has been significant debate on the subject.
Some of the cases have given her nightmares, she said, and were "among the worst that I have seen."
Durbin began Thursday's hearing by thanking most Republicans on the committee, but he also said "some of the attacks on the judge were unfair, unrelenting and beneath the dignity of the United States Senate."
President Biden chose Jackson in February, fulfilling a campaign pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. She would take the seat of Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced in January that he would retire this summer after 28 years.
Jackson would be the third Black justice, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman. Her confirmation would maintain the current 6-3 conservative majority on the court.
She would also be the first former public defender on the court, and the first justice with experience representing indigent criminal defendants since Marshall.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.